Why Practice Obedience, Silence, Humility?


Our annual summer silent retreat is underway, and we are going to share it with you.

You can make this retreat at home, if you wish, by reading each reflection and taking time to reflect, journal, sit in silence or walk quietly through a beautiful place.

By Sisters Mary Core and Stefanie MacDonald, OSB

The triad of Benedictine virtues includes obedience, silence and humility. Let’s start with obedience.

Benedict writes:

The first degree of humility is obedience without delay.
This is the virtue of those
who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ;
who, because of the holy service they have professed,
and the fear of hell,
and the glory of life everlasting,
as soon as anything has been ordered by the Superior,
receive it as a divine command
and cannot suffer any delay in executing it.
Of these the Lord says,
“As soon as he heard, he obeyed Me” (Ps. 17[18]:45).
And again to teachers He says,
“He who hears you, hears Me” (Luke 10:16). (RB 5)

The word obedience comes from the Latin, Obedire. It means to listen.

In the monastery, then, obedience means listening, to the Word of God, to the needs of others, to the prioress.

Obedience does NOT mean “robotic submission to authority,” as Father Joel points out.

And it doesn’t come easily to anyone. Whether you are in a family or monastic community, listening to others – really listening, and putting their needs above your wants – is tough.

It’s our choice, of course, to obey. We are called to it by Christ himself, in the model of Servant.

Michael Casey, OSB says practicing obedience is practicing “constant care for those less than perfect.” Including ourselves. We do it out of love and for the common good.

We do it, to paraphrase Pope John 23, to achieve peace.


Benedict writes:

Let us do what the Prophet says:
“I said, ‘I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue.
I have set a guard to my mouth.’
I was mute and was humbled,
and kept silence even from good things” (Ps. 38[39]:2-3). (RB 6)

Silence is not simply refraining from speech. Indeed, it can be negative when used in anger.

Constant chatter can simply be numbing both to mind and spirit.

When we speak, our words should have some merit. They are powerful.

Silence is valued in Benedictine communities in part for its help in stopping unwise and unjust grumbling. For its part in preventing what Benedict calls “murmuring.”

Silence helps us go deeper into the mystery of God. Its fruit is intimacy with God and one another.

We will explore Humility tomorrow.

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